- Photography by Mr Cedric Bihr
- Styling by Mr Tony Cook, Junior Fashion Editor, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Paul Henderson
Mr Fabian Cancellara is a cycling gladiator. Whether he is racing over the cobbles in the one-day spring classics, winning stages in the world's most famous grand tours or riding against the clock in time trials for Olympic medals, his attitude is the same. "Every race is a battle," he tells me from the back of the RadioShack-Leopard team coach. "Every race is a war. Every race is a fight. If you don't go into every event with that belief, you will never achieve your goals."
Mr Cancellara's approach has won him Paris-Roubaix three times, the Tour of Flanders twice, Olympic gold and silver medals, and he has worn the leader's yellow jersey for a total of 28 days in the Tour de France (the most of any rider who has never won the race itself). On two wheels, the 32-year-old is iron tough, utterly uncompromising and mercilessly relentless. It is an attitude that has earned him the warrior-like moniker Spartacus.
"That is all part of the drama of cycling," he says. "My nickname, the way I ride... that is what I am. I'm not just going out and cruising around the bunch on my bike. I give everything I can in every race to get the best results. My outlook doesn't change from race to race... this is what I am. I am Spartacus!"
I only expect from others what I am
prepared to give myself. Anyone that
doesn't want to achieve what I want,
they can join another team
And when Spartacus goes into battle, he expects his troops to be as dedicated as he is. As team leader, Mr Cancellara can often be heard in the peloton barking orders at his domestiques, demanding "more, more, more" and pushing them to their limit - and sometimes beyond it - in pursuit of victory. It is a philosophy that has broken a few riders, but Mr Cancellara has no sympathy for those who do not meet his exacting standards.
"When we are riding in the mountains, we are not there to wave and say hello to the people," he says passionately. "Sometimes people call me a diva because I have so many demands, but that is only because I expect everyone to do their very best... from the other riders right down to the bus driver. But I only expect from others what I am prepared to give myself. Anyone that doesn't want to achieve what I want, they can join another team."
Unsurprisingly, Mr Cancellara is at his best when he rides alone. From 2006 and for about five years thereafter, he was almost untouchable in time-trial events. He won so many world titles, Olympic medals and timed Tour de France stages that Sir Bradley Wiggins said of his great rival: "He raised [the bar] so high... to the point of making his opponents look almost ridiculous." In fact, many experts believe that if it wasn't for the injury that Mr Cancellara picked up in the Olympic road race in 2012, Sir Bradley would not have won the time-trial gold medal that completed his historic season. Does Mr Cancellara agree?
Mr Cancellara celebrates as he crosses the line of the famously tough road race known as "The Hell of the North", April 2013. Photo: NI Syndication
Tour de France
Mr Cancellara rides at the front of the peloton as he defends the leader's yellow jersey in the race's sixth stage from Épernay to Metz, July 2012. Photo: Getty Images
Mr Cancellara competes in the London 2012 Olympic Games men's individual time trial road cycling event, August 2012. Photo: Getty Images
"Maybe... It would be too easy for me to say, 'Yes, definitely', but I would have had a good chance," he says modestly. "I had a great opportunity to win the road race, but I destroyed my chances by crashing at one corner. I should maybe have gone home after that, but I had so many people there who had come to support me and I didn't want to let them down, so I defended my Olympic title and I think I won a lot of people's respect for competing."
To make up for that disappointment, this year Mr Cancellara is determined not to miss out on another medal. Despite winning two early-season classics (the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix), he missed the Giro d'Italia and recently made the choice to skip the 100th Tour de France in order to peak for the UCI Road World Championships in Florence. "I made the decision because for me there is more to life than cycling," he says surprisingly. "There is more to life than peddling and pushing."
Not that Mr Cancellara is planning to put his bike away any time soon. The bad news for his rivals is that, although he admits to thinking about a life after cycling, he feels he is a better rider today than when he was younger. "I'm definitely in the best stage of my career right now. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, how to get the best from the team around me, and for me it is still a pleasure. That is vital, because if I didn't enjoy racing it would be impossible for me to do what I am doing."
Fashion models, however, can rest easy in their beds. Despite his assignment for MR PORTER, Mr Cancellara is doubtful that he has a future in the industry. "I had fun and it was different," he says with a chuckle, "but I certainly don't have the right legs for modelling. My thighs are way too big to fit in those skinny pants."